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Our Chicago Birthday Trip

This was Calvin's first year to have a trip for his birthday rather than a party.  It was weird to not have a birthday party. 

Weird and sad.

I think I need to just go crawl into a ball and deal with these emotions for a few...

Why is it the things that can make us the most stressed are the things we end up missing the most when they are gone?  Here I'm talking birthday parties.  Last year I couldn't wait for the thing to be over...the party favors, the food, the decorations, I was feeling pretty burnt out from it all.  I was thinking that a break would be nice but here we are a year later and I am already missing the parties. 

Sigh.

This year Calvin wanted to go to Chicago and spend the night downtown.  He is so adorable and loves big cities with all of the lights. 

So that's what we did!  I was a little apprehensive because, with Calvin having Autism, some things he may really, really want to do end up being way too much for him and it ends up disasterously.  I think him wanting them that bad and then them not working out is what makes matters that much worse in the end. 

So let's just say I had my doubts that this would work out.

We took the train to Chicago.  We were going to drive until we did the math and realized it was going to be at least $70 to park our car at the hotel. 

So we decided to take a train.  It was a fun experience for the kids and it was super easy to get into town.  We got off the train, hopped into a waiting taxi and $4.50 later we were at our hotel.  Easy peasy! If you live somewhere that you want to go to Chicago but not drive INTO Chicago I highly recommend the South Shore Train Line. Easy and cheap!

Let me just say, our hotel was amazing!  Nick upgraded us to a suite and it was so nice to have the kids in one room and us in another!  We also had a dining room table and a full kitchen.  It was super fun! Not to mention that our hotel was adjacent to Eataly so it was a perfect excuse to stop and drink loads of amazing hot cocoa and coffee.

After we got checked into our room we decided to try to make our way to Dave and Busters.  We do not have one by us and Calvin has been begging (BEGGING!) to go there since I don't even know when.  So Chicago was a nice location to go.  I say nice but it was 6 degrees outside.  And it is called "The Windy City" you know.  So we decided to set out and see how far we could make it before we needed to hail a cab but by golly we walked the entire way.  I was so proud of us! 

And at Dave and Buster's let me just say, I was so proud of our kids!  We gave them each a power play? card and let them loose.  They didn't ask for more money or complain or anything.  They are just the best kids in the world!  And they had the best time!  Calvin loved playing two-player games with Nick while Emma spent the majority of her time at the skee-ball because that is what she loves. 

After a couple of hours we were done at Dave and Busters so we walked our way over to the kids' favorite part of the trip...cupcake ATM! 

It was so much fun to get to choose birthday cupcakes from the atm and then watch on the screen as the machine fulfilled our order.  The kids LOVED it and I thought it was so adorable!  The cupcake ATM is at Sprinkles.  If you get the chance check it out.  I can vouch that the chocolate peanut butter cupcake was incredible!  Emma got strawberry and the birthday boy got Smores.  They both said they were amazing too!

After gourging ourselves on cupcakes we made our way to do some shopping.  We bought a lego set for Cal's birthday, meandered through Dylan's Candy Shop, and then decided it was high time we had some Chicago pizza.  We went to Gino's which, by the way, is our family's favorite.  There are a million different places but that is our fave.  Supreme with the patty sausage please and thank you!

By that time it was the late hour of 6 in the evening so we walked back to our hotel but not before getting some more drinks at Eataly.  Nick and I were about to crash so caffeine was definitely in order.  Can someone please tell me why we were so tired at 6? 

The kids then wanted to go swimming but not before we vegged in our living room watching the Lego Movie.  So we spent the night watching movies, snacking, swimming, and then repeating the whole process.  It was a perfect night for our family. 

When it was time for the kids to go to bed Nick was trying to find a light for them as a nightlight that wasn't too bright.  Calvin said "it's okay Dad, we have the city lights for a nightlight."  That boy melts my heart, he is just so cute! 

The next day we left our hotel at about 8:30 and walked to the American Girl store. Oh and by the way, it was now a frosty 2 degrees.  I thought we were going to die.  Emma and I always have the best time there! The best Jerry, the best!  Even though this is a no-spend year we surprised her with $30 to spend at the store.  For those that know American Girl you know that that barely buys an outfit. One outfit.  But Emma was so taken aback.  "That's so much money!"  She said.  She was so surprised!

It was a lot of fun to shop with her and to pick out an outfit.  In the end she picked an adorable outfit from Kit's collection (we have Kit) that she thought was a good choice because all of her other dolls could wear the whole outfit or parts of it.  I love how she is so thrifty like her Momma! 

After the American Girl store (and yet another trip to Eataly!) we went to lunch at Harry Carey's Nick's very favoritest restaurant. 

It was an incredible way to end our fun weekend before hopping back on the train.  We were all exhausted but a perfect amount of exhausted: we were all ready to get back to our home and decided we had just enough fun. 

And that was our trip!  Hope you enjoyed visiting Chicago vicariously through my photos :)

Our Winter Trip to the Indianapolis Zoo

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we went to the Indianapolis Zoo.  I wasn't sure what to expect going to the zoo when it was only 7 degrees out but we went anyway.  It was amazing.  Even though not many animals were out we had an amazing experience.

As I mentioned in this previous blog, to get in we only had to pay with canned goods to help the local food bank.  How amazing is that?

The first thing we went to see was the indoor aquarium. 

Winter Trip to the Indianapolis Zoo.  Super Busy at Home.

There is something so magical about taking the time to just let the world go by behind you while you gaze at the fish swimming contentedly around.  And then there is something to ethereal about watching your children be able to do the same thing.  It is such a joy to watch them enjoy God's creation and to discover all of the attributes about it.

Winter Trip to the Indianapolis Zoo.  Super Busy at Home.

I think our favorite part was getting to watch the Dolphins.  They have this walk through thing where the tunnel is under the water and the dolphins swim by. Because it was the winter and there was hardly anyone else there we had the whole place to ourselves and the kids and I laid down and watched the dolphins swim over us.  At first Emma thought I was crazy but after we left she said that was her favorite part.  See?  Sometimes it pays to be the weirdo mom :)

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Other things the kids loved were the penguins waddling around,

Winter Trip to the Indianapolis Zoo.  Super Busy at Home.

the walrus under the water eating his fish and then spitting it out at us (I refrained from posting those pictures on here.  You're welcome! :)  ).

Winter Trip to the Indianapolis Zoo.  Super Busy at Home.
Winter Trip to the Indianapolis Zoo.  Super Busy at Home.

The orangutan exhibit was so neat and we spent lots of time there watching the apes (not monkeys as we learned!).

Winter Trip to the Indianapolis Zoo.  Super Busy at Home.

We also saw a polar bear,

Winter Trip to the Indianapolis Zoo.  Super Busy at Home.

a tiger that looked like he just wanted to be pet (or eat our face off but you know, whatever), and more!

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All in all it was a super fun day.  I think our most memorable thing though were the dolphins. After lunch we returned to the zoo for the dolphin show.  The kids had no idea that dolphins were capable of performing and doing all of the neat tricks.  They were squealing with delight, it was so precious.

So there ya have it, our fun, freezing trip to the zoo.  If you go in the winter I do highly recommend it because we were able to have so much more interaction with the cold weather animals and with such low attendance it practically felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Have you ever been to the zoo in the winter?  Did you like it more than other times? Comment below, sweet friends!

Hotel Life with Kids

Our family is a traveling family.  

Not a hand me a tambourine kind of family. 

Or a gypsy kind of family. 

This is the second year of my husband traveling for work and every once in a while the stars align and we get to go with him.  I think that is one of the best rewards of homeschooling...every place is our classroom and most times we can go with him on a whim to wherever the road takes us.  

Now I feel like I should say (in case any big whig corporate people ever stumbled upon this) that we are very picky about traveling with Nick.  We don't cost the business any extra.  When we go out to dinner, he pays for his with his corporate card and the rest of us are on our own ticket.  But when work is already paying for him to drive and stay there then why not take advantage of a deal for our family and snatch it up.  

*My disclaimer here is that upon accepting his position my husband made it clear that his family can travel and that was what he wanted.  They graciously agreed.  So if you are thinking of doing this with your family, please make sure it is okay first.  It makes you feel a whole lot better that you don't have to be sneaky or anything.  Moving on...

As I homeschool the children we are a one-income family meaning that I like to save money wherever possible.  And something about traveling makes the frugality in me come out.  Also, kind of the hobo in me come out.  Or the McGyver-ness of me come out.  Not sure but I start to feel like "give me a coffee maker and an outlet and I'll be good to go".  

I have spent a chunk of my life pinteresting and googling hotel living and while I have found some, I can't say I have been overwhelmed with helpfulness or anything.  

Anyway, since I have stayed in a hotel room with children about 4 times in the past year I feel like I've gotten pretty good at setting up a good base camp and keeping the kids occupied cheaply and easily. So I thought I would share some tips I have.  Whether you are staying a long time or just going somewhere for vacation these will hopefully be helpful to you: 

* Stay at a place with the following: 

-pool. Let's face it, anywhere with a pool makes it feel more like a vacation.  Plus what swimming kiddos can help but have a good nights sleep after swimming?  I pack two bathing suits so I can dry one while they swim again without a cold suit. 

-mini fridge. You can basically bring anything with a mini fridge.  I personally like to bring my own coffee creamer so I can fix my coffee how I like it at home.  When you go out to eat you can also take the leftovers back to the hotel for another meal.  Money saver!!!

-microwave.  Heat up the leftovers.  Bring along popcorn to munch while you watch a movie. Whatever...I'm guessing you know how to work a microwave so I'm moving on. 

-a coffee maker can be your best friend.  Here is what I've done with it.  Made coffee, ha!. Ran hot water through for hot cocoa.  Made hot water for Ramen soup. Made hot water and dumped it into a tub that had a temperature control so I couldn't get the water hot enough.  I am sure you could think of other things. Basically if it has to do with hot water, you could do it with a coffee maker.

Hotel Stays with Kids.  Super Busy at Home.

-free breakfast. Read free breakfast also as: future snacks for your kids.  Most breakfasts have pastries, yogurt cups, and fruit which can all be brought back to the hotel room for a snack for later on. Another thing I will take from there are two coffee cups, packs of hot cocoa, and stirrers.  When we get back from the pool my kids love having hot cocoa to warm up.  I also love getting the hard boiled eggs from the little fridge for myself for a protein packed pick me up in the afternoon.  Also, when you have the mini-fridge you can put all of this in there.  Oh and I have to remind you to grab plastic cutlery!  It's hard to eat ramen without a fork or spoon.  It's very interesting to do!  It feels like some type of youth group game.  Anyway, get silverware. 

Just do it.  I mean it. 

Our two favorite hotel chains so far have been: 

Holiday Inn Express (we have had NO luck with straight up Holiday Inn hotels though)

Springhill Suites (A Mariott Hotel) 

These two have had all of the above necessities for us.  

Here are some helpful items to have/take: 

*Plastic hangers. When we go anywhere it always seems like they have those hangers with the little rod with a ball that attaches to the thing on the rod to become a hanger so you can't steal.  Which by the way do not work too well in the shower.  So I pack 5 little kid plastic hangers so I can hang bathing suits on them and hang them on the shower rod.  Amazingly this works so much better than trying to drape wet suits all over God's creation.  And they dry so much better.  

*A knife.  Not like a shiv or anything but a nice kitchen knife.  A lot of times the buffets have little cups of peanut butter by the bagels so a couple of those with a cut up apple makes for a great afternoon snack for little kids.  

*Plastic Bags. I try to bring a trash bag from home for dirty clothes.  It makes keeping the room tidy with four people so much easier when you can just chuck all of the clothes you've used into one bag.  When we get home that bag goes right to the laundry room and the rest can be put away. I also save plastic bags from take out, purchases, whatever that we collect while there.  I use them for trash.  Hotels must be really proud that they have the world's smallest trashcans because they are always inequitably tiny.  And with 4 people there for days on end it always ends up getting too full.  They are also good for dirty shoes, beach items, whatever.  

*Food.  I'm not saying by any means you have to bring bags and bags of groceries but a few items will save you some serious cash.  Here are my staples I bring and how they save me: coffee creamer (I don't run to Starbucks anymore!), microwave popcorn (saves you from running out for a snack), fruit (this REALLY helps keep my kids, shall we say, regular? while on vacation and eating junk food galore!), ramen noodle cups (we never eat these at home but at hotels the kids LOVE them). 

Hotel Life with the Kiddos.  Super Busy at Home

*A Netflix Account and a way to watch it.  One of our last trips we went to a small city and there really wasn't much to do.  There were playgrounds and a couple of fun outdoorsy things but it poured for two days straight and we were running out of things to do.  The hotel had maybe 5 channels on a good day and none of them were kid appropriate.  I have no idea what I would have done if I hadn't had our computer.  I set it up and we had popcorn and hot cocoa and watched a movie.  What could have been the worst, most boring day ever was turned into a rainy day memory save for the Netflix.  

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Here are some organizational tips I have for staying in a hotel room with kids: 

*Unpack.  I mean it. Before we started traveling regularly we hardly ever used the dressers in hotels or even unpacked at all.  We would just take out what we needed as we needed it and then shoved it back in when we were done.  Wrong!  The best thing I have found to keep me sane is to unpack.  Nick still hates unpacking and most hotel dressers have 3 drawers so I use one drawer for my things and one for each kid.  I unpack everything from their bags and then find somewhere to shove the bags.  It's so great to not have those things to be tripping over.  In a couple of hotels I've even taken them back out to the car so we didn't even have to deal with them.  

*Set up stations/areas. In the area below the nightstand table I put all of our books and activities.  On the desk I put all of our charges, nooks, phones, and computer.  In the kitchen area I put all of the food (genius, I know).  In the bathroom I put all shower stuff in the shower and everything else below the sink. I put the bag for dirty clothes by the front door or in a closet.  It makes it easier to find things when everything's not just jammed together in bags in say, the closet area or somewhere.   

*Put your purse by the door.  And repeat.  When you're leaving it's easy to find.  If there's a fire it's easy to find.  It's just easy.  Don't put it by an open door but a normal, safe, closed door is just fine :) 

Hotel Stays with Kids. Super Busy at Home.

*I feel like Ross Geller from Friends telling you to do this but...Get a late check out.  Just ask.  We've never not been able to get a later check out.  It takes away some of the stress to get out the door and if the kids want to have a last minute swim it's a lot easier to get everyone showered, dressed, and out the door when you have an extra hour or two.  


So there you go.  I hope some of these help you and save you some sanity during your next trip with your kiddos!  Please feel free to share any tips you have...Lord knows I need all the help I can get! :)